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While one may step up to lead others at any age, leadership ability that emerges early on seldom flags as the years roll by. That’s a good thing for trucking. Forged by one-truck pioneers decades ago and remade time and again by those we now call entrepreneurs, trucking has a knack for drawing in persons of diverse backgrounds who are looking to build satisfying careers advancing the industry that is the backbone of America’s economy.

Spend any amount of time with people in the trucking business, and you see that trucking is a people business. Customers are of course top of mind, but so are the drivers and technicians and so many others who work to make sure trucks roll safely and efficiently to deliver goods and services all across our country.

It is the leaders at work in every fleet operation who, day in and day out, keep everyone focused on moving forward to accomplish their work in a manner satisfactory to customers and to the workers themselves.

Leaders do so by example. Above all, they lead by gaining the trust of others – both those who follow them and those smart enough to empower them to make things happen.

With those thoughts in mind, we’re proud to introduce you to our fourth annual HDT Emerging Leaders honorees. Each of these fleet-management standouts is being honored for on-the-job accomplishments and winning approaches to managing others that they have demonstrated before reaching the age of 40.

This year’s Emerging Leaders collectively represent a cross-section of trucking operations, ranging from package delivery to dedicated and long-haul transportation. All were nominated by employers, colleagues, or peers, with the winning honorees chosen by our editorial staff.

Our 2019 Emerging Leaders came to trucking through a family or other personal link, by an attractive job offer, or their desire to make a big change. What they all share is a driving commitment to excellence in their chosen field of fleet management:

Peter Covach earned an associate degree and was hired as an intern by a fleet where he worked full time as he went to school to finish his bachelor’s degree in IT Security.

Skyler Droubay earned a CDL before completing a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and an MBA, all credentials that he puts to use as a second-generation trucking executive.

Bradley Lambertus completed a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and was soon drawn by the opportunities afforded by “getting involved in a large industry that impacts the economy.”

Anthony Marshall holds a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and first thought of launching his career with an automaker before taking on a part-time management position in trucking.

Bobby Taylor worked as a consultant while finishing a bachelor’s of Business Administration and “fell into trucking,” thanks to a chance encounter that led to a career-launching job.

Olivia Young first applied her bachelor’s of Marketing in the commercial interior-design field before “making a 180-degree change” to head marketing for a growing trucking operation.

Peter Covach

Director of Information Technology, Paper Transport, Green Bay, Wisconsin

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“I was not specifically looking at trucking,” says Peter Covach. “I sort of fell into it, and now I’ve been here for over 11 years.” In that time, he says the truckload carrier has grown from less than 200 to more than 850 trucks. “With that growth have been opportunities,” he says, for him to advance from an IT support engineer to heading the department, and for the carrier’s leadership to “adopt an IT-centric approach to help move quickly on a lot of operational projects. We have help from vendors [on setups], but our expectation is to manage it all long term. It’s truly about a knowledge transfer. That’s why our nine-person IT staff is embedded with the overall operations staff.”

A major case in point is a campaign he launched four years ago that remains ongoing to equip drivers with Samsung tablets. These are loaded with apps to handle hours of service and electronic log requirements, as well as vehicle inspections, daily score-carding, training modules, and the “ability for drivers to speak to other drivers and anyone here right up to the president.”

He says the tablet solution grew out of “my frustration with a proprietary [in-cab] device we paid a lot for but had little control over, so I always had to say ‘No’ about adding new features. Ultimately, it all has to come back to the people using the technology.”

Skyler Droubay

Equipment Manager, Double D Distribution, Salt Lake City, Utah

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Since taking charge five years ago of the equipment side of the carrier his father, Mark, founded in 1984, Skyler Droubay has streamlined shop operations and written tractor and trailer specs that better mesh with the exacting demands of the fleet’s specialized equipment. His biggest win to date is putting together specs that enable hauling almost the same payload of liquid asphalt with one “centipede” tanker trailer in place of Rocky Mountain doubles. He says the resulting rig is much more stable for safer operation and boosts efficiency by shortening load/unload times and increasing mpg.

“Driving is the core of the business,” says Droubay, a CDL holder since age 18. “But a lot goes on behind the scenes to run the truck down the road legally and safely.” He says developing the centipede was “a fun project,” albeit with serious purpose. “When running doubles, the driver has to watch that the pup doesn’t drift off the road. I started to think, ‘Would one trailer be safer and more efficient, due to it having less wind resistance?’”

Interacting with local states and with trailer maker Etnyre, Droubay developed longer single units, fitted with six or seven axles. They are “cheaper to buy than doubles and track down the road more smoothly and safely,” he explains. “They also hold the heat of the asphalt better and give us a jump of a mile per gallon.”

Bradley Lambertus

Marketing Coordinator, TransAm Trucking, Olathe, Kansas

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Working with a “relatively modest” marketing budget, Bradley Lambertus is credited in just three years with developing recruitment campaigns that have slashed the refrigerated carrier’s cost-per hire for new drivers to half that typical of many fleets.

“When I first got here, I took some time to wrap my head around [recruiting drivers], and I’m still learning,” he says. Now, he and his five-person staff “take a different approach to help get drivers to give us a shot.” That effort is guided by measuring the results of their efforts and then “following through thoroughly, from initial contact right through orientation. If you don’t gather and review your results, you can’t see what needs adjusting.”

Based on that ongoing analysis, Lambertus has made changes such as moving away from print and radio ads to digital advertising and requiring recruiters to do more follow-up with applicants — “we want to walk along with the drivers as they join us.” What’s more, he says, “we recognized that while there was a lot of focus on recruiting, we needed to zero in on retention as well. Now, we follow up to get continuous feedback, and that’s also helped bring down our turnover rate.

“I’d argue it’s everyone’s responsibility to touch on recruitment and retention,” he adds. “Everyone has an influence, from contacting prospects to looking at how to keep improving how we work with drivers.”

Anthony Marshall

Automotive Manager, Atlanta Regional Hub, UPS, Atlanta, Georgia

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“Opportunity” is a watchword for Anthony Marshall. A little over five years after joining the giant package carrier, he moved up from a supervisor to a fleet manager position. “That role was a critical pivot point on my career path,” he says. “It allowed me to see and learn much more. And it cemented my view that you should always strive to make your job easier and better for the next person to have it.” That includes giving back, which he does through outside roles such as chairing the Technology & Maintenance Council’s Future Truck Committee.

By 2017, he moved to corporate as director of maintenance and engineering - transportation fleet.

In April, Marshall was tapped to head the tractor and trailer equipment engineering and maintenance operation at the new UPS “super hub” regional sorting and distribution center in Atlanta, the company’s second largest such facility in the U.S.

“The scope here — it’s over a million square feet — gives you a different perspective,” he notes. “The opportunity is to lay the foundation to develop the culture that will make facilities like this successful and sustainable for 30 to 40 years to come.”

He contends that “everyone wants to have a positive impact, and those of us in transportation have an impact on millions of people. Whether it’s medicine or Grandma’s cookies that needs delivering, we have the opportunity to make that happen.”

Bobby Taylor

Terminal Manager – Corporate, Sharp Transit, Nashville, Tennessee

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Bobby Taylor brought nearly nine years of experience working with three brand-name carriers to his new job at the dedicated carrier, which provides Aldi Grocery with warehouse-to-store deliveries via seven terminals.

In just the six months since he came on board, Taylor has had a notable impact on increasing driver retention and boosting employee morale, implementing standardized safety processes and procedures, reducing claims month over month, and increasing operational efficiency. In addition, he is now taking on additional responsibilities across all the fleet’s terminal operating divisions to help improve consistency.

All this from an executive who says he “never had trucking on my radar” while working in another field, until a chance encounter led to a job offer that resulted in him “falling in love with this industry.”

After working for large LTL fleets, Taylor says Sharp gave him the chance to “try something different” and to do so at a smaller company where how things are done is “not locked down.”

Finding the company to be “very siloed,” which can cause problems for a growing company, Taylor came in and started to improve policies and fine-tune existing processes. His first big task was to turn around one terminal “struggling from a lack of consistency across its processes. We built up the employees by making changes to increase their job satisfaction, including setting up consistent practices and applying them consistently.”

Olivia Young

Director of Marketing and National Sales Manager, Navajo Express, Denver, Colorado

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In just over two years with the refrigerated and van hauler, Olivia Young has made her mark in both fleet marketing and national sales.

“My first order of business was to uplift our website to create a simple, attractive platform for both drivers and clients,” she says. “Within the first month, the number of visits nearly doubled, and traffic continues to grow with the help of blogs, press releases, and our active social media platforms.”

Young’s marketing hat covers everything from internal/external communications and brand awareness to sales, safety, and recruiting support, as well as advertising and public relations. She works to “grow Navajo’s industry presence, including [seeing executives] serving on industry panels, helping with magazine articles, and participating in trucking podcasts. But more importantly than increasing our presence, I have worked hard to foster a positive working environment within the Navajo family.” Those efforts include spearheading Driver Appreciation Week and Million-Mile Driver Celebration events.

Even with all that going on, about a year after joining the carrier, Young began to take on sales responsibilities. Within six months, she grew accounts that were bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars to deliver multi-millions in annual revenues.

“Success with my clients comes from looking beyond the idea of just moving trucks and delivering on time,” she says. “It’s about creating relationships that are built on trust, communication, and hopefully a little bit of fun.”

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